Last week I replaced my office chair with an exercise ball. I actually bought two, one for the home and one for the office. I was looking for more ways to do something about my sedentary lifestyle as a desk monkey. Sales people get to make phone calls and go out of the office (so long as they close the deal). Management can always schedule a meeting here and there or even go on a business trip wherever they want. Programmers get to fidget in their seat all they and stare at their monitor. For exercise you go to the local cafe to grab a coffee, unless you work for one of those famous IT companies filled with toys.
The stereotypical programmer is either heroine-chic thin or fat as a balloon but on average a bit on the flabby side at best. You wont find many hardcore programmers curling barbells as they knock out one algorithmic marvel after another. So basically, I came to the conclusion, the only variable I can safely change is the surface I sit on.
I was never able to sit still for so long as I can remember. If I stay in the same spot for more than 15 minutes I get restless and impatient to the point where I have to jump out of the seat. It’s almost a disease really. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool IT people sitting on one of those bouncy balls. It made the office look more fun and innovative. Of course, that image of exercise balls being cool probably died with the first IT bubble but I guess it’s never to late to rekindle fond memories.
I ordered a set of exercise balls off of Amazon for around $20 total. As I pushed my office chair to the side and started inflating the ball, I got cold, knowing looks from co-workers (“yeah, those used to be cool at my last office, didn’t do a damn thing for you after a while”), kicks (to the ball), and people wanting to try it. All the typical reactions I read about in doing some background research.
The first day was hell. I didn’t inflate the ball enough so it was a bit low for my desk. The thing about sitting on these exercise balls is that they are essentially fluid, unstable surfaces to sit on. You need to constantly shift your weight around to maintain your balance. As a result, paradoxically it may seem, you end up having to keep your back straighter than you usually do because it offers you the most balance and least effort on such surfaces.
My posture has always been bad even before becoming a programmer. I never was into sports to begin with and really didn’t care about posture. Naturally, my posture kept getting worse. On top of that I’m near-sighted so when I concentrate on something I tend to lean into the screen more than most people, making things even worse.
The first day of sitting on an exercise ball was the roughest. The second I started sitting on the ball my back suddenly went straight as an arrow. It was strange because it happened so naturally as I wiggled to gain stability when I first sat on the ball. After a short while my upper back was in excruciating pain from maintaining a straight line from my head down to my ball. While I wanted to relax my posture a bit, doing so would ruin my balance so there I was frozen in pain. Each day got better and from the second day I didn’t have any upper back pain. However, near the end of every workday my lower back would get really worked hard and tense from keeping my back straight. Being restless to start with now I was jumping out my seat all the time to relieve the muscle ache or rolling my hips on the ball to stretch out the small of my back.
After only spending a week on the ball my posture improved quite dramatically. I noticed the difference after only a day when I was looking at party pictures the day after I used the ball for a full day. I was just standing as I normally would without really trying to keep my back straight, yet it looked more straight than usual. It does seem to help you burn more calories too. The problem is I’ve been eating a lot more as well. Another side benefit is it keeps me from doing overtime since I can’t just slouch in my cheap, pretender of an ergonomic chair all day. My back muscles are in too much pain to stay any longer than eight hours.
It’s still too early to see how this whole thing will work out but it seems to have all kinds of benefits. Aside from getting extra exercise and better posture for free I can do all kinds of stretches whilst remaining seated just by rolling the ball around and stretching out my mid-section. When I do get to sit on a regular chair it feels like heaven too. However, sitting on an exercise ball helps you maintain more concentration though since it heightens your self-awareness. Not sure how long this phase of mine will last. I guess we’ll see.